In America, everyone claims to be at least a little bit Irish on St Patrick’s Day, so it’s probably not all that surprising that March 17th has become a nationally acceptable day to put on a wacky green leprechaun costume, and drink a bunch of traditionally Irish beers.
It could be worse. You could be power-pounding some tasteless mass-produced lager that some fool dyed green, but you won’t hear any of the ACB faithful offering up any such suggestions.
So with all the hubbub surrounding what has practically become a national holiday, we have to ask, just what the hell is St Patrick’s Day really about anyway?
Will the Real St Patrick Please Stand Up?
Let’s start with the fact that Ireland’s beloved St Patrick was actually British.
He was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16 and made to live as a slave for six years in Ireland before escaping and returning home. Although the details of his life are a bit murky, a few different things are universally accepted.
Pre- St Patrick reached the level of Bishop within the Catholic Church and spent the bulk of his time as a missionary converting the Druids and other pagan disciples of Ireland to Catholicism. By the seventh century, he effectively became the patron saint of Ireland.
There are many legends surrounding St. Patrick, most notably that he’d driven snakes from the island after being attacked by them, though there’s ample evidence that snakes never inhabited Ireland while he was alive.
And other than us being pretty sure he had no preference between Bushmills vs. Jameson or Guinness vs. Harp, much of the rest of his life is a bit uncertain beyond his childhood and his work as a missionary.
Early St Patrick’s Day Traditions
In the early 17th Century, the Catholic Church made his accepted date of death, March 17th, an official day of feast, and it became a national holiday in Ireland in 1903.
In 1996, St Patrick’s Day became a three-day festival in Ireland that now stretches to 5 days and draws a million visitors to parades, concerts, and fireworks every year.
Why Green On Saint Patrick’s Day?
The roots about wearing of the color green on the holiday can be a bit confusing.
Sure, Ireland’s flag is green and orange and it is the Emerald Isle. But it does get more confusing when you consider that the Order of St. Patrick, created in 1783, for some reason decided to choose blue as their official color.
Coming to America
In the 19th century, Irish immigrants brought St Patrick’s Day celebrations to the new world, continuing to hold parades and festivals in his name.
And while the remembrance of St. Patrick may be more fervent within the walls of Catholic Churches around the world, the secular celebrations in America, so many of them fueled on beer, are huge.
From dyeing the river green in Chicago, not to mention the beer, we’re pretty serious about celebrating St Patrick’s Day here in the states.
And while there are historical and spiritual reasons to celebrate the life of a saint who died over 1,500 years ago, it’s pretty clear that Americans find plenty to toast on St Patrick Day, whether they’re Irish or not.